Sent to you by Chris Hunter via Google Reader:
I need to sell an old car that's seen better days. I don't have a lot of money for repairs, but I also desperately need to sell the car so I can buy a new used car. How should I go about selling my used car and get as much as possible for it?
Not a Car Salesman
If you've never sold a car before, the process can seem daunting. It involves things few people like to do, such as cleaning your car, marketing it, and discussing money with strangers. That said, the time and effort you put into preparing your car will help you quickly sell it for a reasonable price.
I spoke with several auto experts to help you get your car sold at the right price, with as little stress as possible. Here's what they said.
Get Your Car Looking Awesome
This will come as no surprise to you, but people prefer to buy clean, nice-looking cars. Things like stains, dirt, and crumbs would make your car look cheaper than it might really be and give the impression you haven't kept the car well-maintained. And that's the most important thing about selling your car: Convincing possibly nervous buyers that your car was well-taken care of. Even though yours is an older car, there are several things you can do to make it shiny and more attractive. You want to make it look as close to "like new" as possible.
Get it detailed: Think like a dealer and sell your used car for more by getting it detailed. Nearly all of my car expert sources recommend you spend the $100-200 for this service. Lauren Fix, spokesperson for the non-profit Car Care Council, said detailing could add $500 or more to your car's resale value. Detailers help make the car look new again by removing light scratches and paint imperfections, buffing the car, shampooing the carpets, degreasing the engine, and more. Cars Direct has a guide on what you can expect from a car detailing service and how to choose one. (You can detail your car yourself, since car detailing secrets are out of the bag, but it's a lot of effort and time, and a professional detailer will do the job right.) Photo by Levent Konuk (Shutterstock)
Replace the floor mats: One easy and inexpensive trick is to swap worn, dirty floor mats with new ones, Fix suggests.
Reconsider any modifications you may have done: Any mods you've added to your car should be reconsidered based on whether they were well done and, most important, make your car sell better with them. ASA certified Toyota technician and mechanical claims administrator Adam Karner says:
Your Nissan 350Z with the body kit, smoked tail lights and blacked out rims probably looks amazing, and you are likely to find that the type of buyer who is looking for a 350Z will love those styling modifications and be more likely to buy your car. But what about your 4 door Honda civic that you added that spoiler and giant muffler (those of us in the muscle car world refer to these as "fart cans") to? That fake hood scoop you got from AutoZone or the neon light bulbs you added to the inside of the car? These will probably discourage a lot of buyers. Remove the wing, put the stock wheels back on, and if a young kid comes by just show them to him and offer to give them away with the car. Take a long hard look at these mods and decide if they are really something that someone who wants your specific car is going to like.
Get It Serviced and Repair the Most Obvious Flaws
If you're not sure if anything is wrong with your car, get it professionally inspected, our sister site Jalopnik recommends. While you're at it, make sure you change the oil if it's time for it, since savvy buyers know to check for burnt oil. Photo by USAG - Humphreys
Car need a lot of repairs? It doesn't make sense to pay thousands to fix them all, unless you know your car's resale value will drop by more than the cost of the repairs if you don't do them. At the same time, Karner advises, definitely fix the little things that are likely to stick out in a buyer's mind:
Anything that is going to have an impact on the perceived quality of the vehicle should be taken care of. Does your keyless entry not work? Check it out. Replace the battery in the key fob before the buyer comes to see the car. Even if you know it just needs a $5 battery, the buyer doesn't. When they are sitting at home thinking about all the cars they looked at, something like the keyless entry not working is going to stick out in their mind. If the brakes are REALLY bad, you may have to replace those as well. Once again, if they just remember that your car squealed every time they came to a stop than it is going to stick out in their minds when they are thinking about all the cars they looked at later.
You should also fix some of the bigger things that affect your car's all-important appearance. A huge dent in your car is worth spending $100-200 on to get removed, because doing so could get you a few more thousand for your vehicle, Karner says.
Other worthy investments are regular service and new tires and brakes, according to Fix:
If you pay $300 for a 60,000 mile service, you can double that in resale value. Buyers will pay more to avoid the hassle of doing it themselves and for the peace of mind.The same principle applies with new tires and brakes. No one wants to have to replace these items and will pay more if it's already done.
Obviously, if you have a limited budget, prioritize the services and repairs that would stand out most to buyers and give you the biggest bang for your repair buck.
Gather All Your Records
If you can show buyers all your maintenance and service records, that will go a long way towards giving them peace of mind. If you don't have all of the records, at least write them down, Fix says, and pay for a CarFax report to prove your car was never in an accident.
Determine a Realistic Price
Pricing your car realistically is also a big deal. Use car pricing sites such as NADA Guides and Kelley Blue Book to find out what your car is worth, Karner says. Put in your car's complete details and honest assessment of its condition to get an accurate estimate. You can also look at similar cars being sold on Cars.com, Craigslist, or eBay Motors and use those to make a price comparison sheet. You might add a couple of hundred more dollars to your base price just to account for people haggling with you (a strategy used car reseller Natalie uses in her side business).
Make Sure the Listing Is Effective
Once you've done all that, you're ready to list your car for sale. Don't limit your ad to just one place, but try several online listing sources, like the ones mentioned above. Most importantly, keep your listing as detailed and brutally honest as possible. Include every feature and detail about your car, Karner advises:
Don't assume a potential buyer knows everything about your car. They may not even be looking for your car specifically, so it may be a feature your car has that catches their eye and gets them to read your listing. Make sure you are honest with your listing. Provide the exact mileage and list anything that is wrong with the vehicle so there are no surprises when they come see it. Nothing is worse than seeing a beautiful car online just to get out there and realize that the owner took care to hide any damage in the pictures they put in the listing. Always provide the VIN number so they can run a Carfax report. Even if there is nothing on it, it gives them peace of mind knowing that you aren't trying to hide a major accident in the vehicles history.
Highlight what's special about your car, use keywords in the headline to help potential buyers find it, and see how others are listing their same cars to get ideas (and possible a leg up on your competition).
All that work getting your car clean and shining will pay off when you take photographs of your car. Many, many photographs. Clayton Stanfield of eBay Motors says:
Having a wide variety of photos is key - we recommend providing at least 40 photos from multiple angles to give the potential buyer a clear picture of the vehicle, and confidence in what they're purchasing. Also, make sure that you are taking the photos with a decent camera, and that the photographs are taken in good light, without distracting glare or reflections. If the potential buyer is left with doubts based on a lack of viewable detail from your photographs, they will likely bid lower on your vehicle, or not place a bid at all.
Again, it's all about making your car look good and appear well-maintained.
Or Get a Car Repair Place to Sell It For You
We don't recommend trading in your used car at a dealership. Although it's somewhat easier and less scary than doing the work of selling your car yourself, DIY is best for getting the most money for your car. (If you must sell to a dealer, though, don't bother with all the detailing and such to prep your car. As Drivers Talk Radio host Rick Titus cautions, dealers are very unemotional about trade-ins, so all your effort to upgrade your car's appearance and such won't earn you more. Just get it washed.)
There is one clever way, though, you might be able to sell your car with less effort. Eva Popek, who has sold two cars in the last six months, says she hated having people come to her home and test drive her car. Her solution:
I found a car repair place on the highway that only charged $200.00 to have it parked at his business and I brought in all the paperwork and when he had a buyer I just went to collect my money minus the $200. That was worth it! No one calling or coming by to test drive. Cars were always clean (not detailed) and sold in a timely manner. So I say find a business that gets lots of traffic and see if they will handle the paperwork and get a fee.
Craigslist didn't work for her, but you could possibly combine this tactic with an online listing—and keep your driveway free of your old car. Photo by John Llyod
Be Cautious When Working with Potential Buyers
One last word of advice comes from AAA. If you do handle the car showing and final transaction yourself, make sure you stay safe. Meet buyers in a public location, don't let them test drive the car themselves, and take certified check, cash, or money order for payment before you transfer ownership. You could complete the transaction at a bank to verify payment first.
It sure sounds like a lot of work, but selling a car, like buying one, is one of the biggest financial transactions you might have to do. It pays to be prepared.
Have a question or suggestion for Ask Lifehacker? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to our car experts for contributing to this article: Lauren Fix is a 20+ year car expert and spokesperson for the non-profit Car Care Council, which advises consumers about maintaining your car for safety and appearance. Fix is also a three-time automotive book author.
Adam Karner is an ASE certified Toyota technician with 8 years of experience in sales, service, and mechanical claims administration. He is currently the Assistant Manager of Mechanical Claims for Endurance Vehicle Protection Services, the only provider of extended service agreements with an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and one of only 11 such companies that meet the Vehicle Protection Association's qualifications.
Rick Titus hosts Drivers Talk Radio, a broad-reaching program that discusses the automotive industry in an informative and entertaining fashion.